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The Jets effect: Return of NHL hockey beneficial to provincial economy

Almost half of business leaders polled say the return of NHL hockey, quality of life most beneficial to provincial economy

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Considering how significant business leaders in the province believe the return of the Jets has been to the Manitoba economy, provincial officials are probably wishing there was binding arbitration at the NHL to end the labour dispute.

Close to half of the business leaders who responded to a new poll done by Probe Research exclusively for the Free Press said having an NHL team in Winnipeg is beneficial to the provincial economy.

The return of a major league hockey team and the quality of life in the province were the two items out of 16 included in the survey that were deemed to be the most beneficial to the provincial economy.

"The Jets are seen as a multi-faceted asset for the province," said Scott McKay, president of Probe Research Inc. "It depends on how you look at it but the consensus is that it is a good thing. Very few think it is harmful."

The survey of 200 business leaders in the province was conducted this fall and the results are considered accurate plus or minus 6.9 per cent of what they would be had the entire population of Manitoba business leaders been surveyed.

The survey makes statistically valid what had been understood anecdotally to be the case when it comes to the Jets.

And since the survey was done in the middle of the second month of the lockout, it might even have been more significant if the games were being played.

The other item seen as important a contributor to the economic well-being of the province as the return of the NHL was quality of life.

"On the one hand the Jets are important to business people because of the downtown economic spinoffs that come with it," said McKay. "But it's also good for the city because it is emblematic that Winnipeg is back in the big leagues."

McKay believes the strong sentiment that it helps the economy -- 48 per cent rated the Jets as strongly beneficial compared to eight per cent who said it was harmful -- encompasses a wide range of benefits.

"For instance, when business leaders are talking to colleagues across the country it (having an NHL team in the city) is one less competitive advantage Toronto or Calgary have over Winnipeg," said McKay.

He also believes embedded in the result is the sentiment that it makes it easier to recruit and retain staff.

"When they are calling outside the province to recruit somebody, this is an advantage," he said. "It's one more thing to put on the table."

Following closely behind the Jets and the quality of life as issues perceived to be most beneficial to the provincial economy was the performance of the agricultural sector at 47 per cent, Manitoba Hydro at 41 per cent and immigration at 37 per cent.

But McKay said he predicts the extent to which Manitoba Hydro is perceived to be beneficial might come down in the ensuing years as the economies in the global energy marketplace are changing.

"I bet if we ask the same group of items in the years to come you might see Hydro fall even further back," McKay said.

Crime elicited the strongest negative reaction, with 50 per cent believing crime was a harmful influence on the provincial economy.

The next strongest negative reaction was the condition of the infrastructure, which 43 per cent of respondents said was a negative influence followed by the Manitoba tax rate at 36 per cent and aboriginal/non-aboriginal relations at 26.

McKay noted the different sentiments expressed by business leaders between the aboriginal relations issue and immigration.

"It's nice that business people acknowledge the importance of immigration, which is really at the heart of the growth in the province, but it's also interesting to see that people do have reservations about aboriginal relations," he said.

As a market research firm, McKay said many of Probe's clients are putting a lot of resources at play to better understand the immigrant communities in Manitoba.

"They are trying to understand things like the labour-market issues and consumer demands of immigrant communities here," he said.

This was the first time a survey like this has been conducted in Manitoba.

"If someone asked you to explain in a couple of paragraphs what are the great things about living in Winnipeg because they were thinking of moving here and setting up a business, this would help," said McKay.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 0

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Updated on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM CST: replaces photo

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